Covered Skylights – By: Chris Collier

We have done numerous articles about skylights, here is another.  These building features can be an asset to firefighters assigned to the roof as a means for quick ventilation.  Their location, many times above the interior stairs, makes them an ideal vertical ventilation location.  Relieving the interior stairs of smoke will help civilians evacuate, possibly increase visibility for the forcible entry team, and allow the engine to stretch to the proper location a little easier. 

Conversely, skylights can be dangerous to an unknowing firefighter, especially on a smokey roof.  Leaking skylights are many times replaced by removing the skylight and roofing over the area that was once the skylight.  If you are lucky this area of the roof will be raised and it will be obvious that this situation exists.  If not, the skylight can be covered over flush with the rest of the roof, increasing the danger. 

The quality of this patch job is where our concern lies.  If this area is properly framed out, covered with plywood, and then roofed over we are in pretty good shape.  Often these openings are covered with only a thin piece of plywood with no framing underneath and then covered with roofing material.  As you can see in this photo the once skylight has been framed out with 2×4" and then covered with plywood and rolled roofing. 

A few roof safety tips:

  • Be cautious of any area that appears to have been patched

Any patched area can be hazardous, not only roofed over skylights.  Patches normally indicate an area that was leaking.  The roof surface has been repaired to stop the leak but the water damage to the structural components beneath can not be seen. 

  • Avoid walking across roofed over skylights
  • If you can't see, crawl
  • Cross from building to building in the front

Other related articles:

Opening Scuttle and Skylight Returns

Parapet Walls

Coping Stones

Safely Traversing The Roof


7-9-8 Ventilation Cut


  • Tom Cook -Chicago FD H&L 59 says:

    Remember when your doing your initial assessment of the roof that back porches usually have a hatch and being on the roof of a back porch is one place you NEVER wanna be. Also I have seen some access hatches above elevator shafts. Removing or cutting this hatch draws smoke into to elevator shaft thus rendering elevators useless.

  • ShamrockDriver says:

    Like they teach in rookie school…sound the roof as you walk. Sound it loud.

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We specialize in the basic fundamentals of firefighting. While we believe that hazardous materials, terrorism, emergency medical and the various rescue disciplines are essential parts of the Fire Service, we also think that the basic fundamentals of firefighting have been overlooked in recent years. We are here to help turn that trend in the other direction.

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